Reports of sexual assaults at Boston-area colleges have risen over the past five years, a Globe review of federally reported data has found.
Campus safety experts say the rise in reporting of sexual assaults suggests that many colleges – pushed by government agencies, victims, and new federal guidelines – are improving efforts to address the problem by expanding education and outreach and by more thoroughly reporting the widely underreported crime.
“When we see sexual assault numbers increase, that hopefully means the barriers to reporting are finally beginning to be addressed, which means you are beginning the steps to solve the problem,” said S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative who has spent more than two decades studying campus safety.
An estimated 88 percent of college victims do not formally report sexual assaults, according to a federal study.
Across 22 of the largest campuses in and around Boston, reports of “forcible sex offenses” rose by nearly 40 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to the most recent data supplied by colleges as required under the federal Clery Act.
The total of 113 sexual assaults reported in 2012 at the Boston-area colleges reviewed for this report is the highest level in a decade, and mirror trends at campuses nationwide. Meanwhile, reports of other serious type of crime at area schools – murder, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, and arson – have declined or barely increased, according to the federal data.
The Clery reports cover allegations of crimes that occurred on campus, including dorms and other public property; at property owned by but separated from the main campus; and fraternities and sororities. They exclude other off-campus housing.
Below are examples from some of the schools’ with data that stood out:
Over the past five years, Harvard University has consistently reported more sexual assaults per year, and more incidents per enrolled student, than any other campus in the Boston area. In 2012, 38 cases were reported, up from 19 in 2008.
Harvard officials said the university has been active in recent years in trying to address the issue, including creating in 2002 a centralized office with victim-support services and resources to help students learn about sexual assault prevention and response.
“We firmly believe that more robust reporting of sexual assaults by victims is an important component of our efforts to prevent these crimes and ensure that victims get the support that they need,” said Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin.
UMass Boston reported the second-highest number of alleged assaults in 2012, at 13, up from 0 five years earlier.
Crystal Valencia, a spokeswoman for the school, said none of the 2012 incidents involved a student from the university and only one of the 2012 reported incidents occurred on campus. The others happened at off-campus property the university either owns, leases, or controls.
“UMass Boston is committed to maintaining the highest standards for the safety and security of every person on campus,” Valencia said.
Over the past five years, Harvard has led all local schools reporting on average about 10 sexual assaults each year for every 10,000 students. Still, those rates are still well-below estimates of actual annual rape rates. For instance, a 2007 Department of Justice-funded study estimated that about 5.2 percent of college women, or 520 in every 10,000, are sexually assaulted each year; the study did not calculate a rate for men or men and women together.
Other large local schools have reported significantly fewer sexual assaults each year. Over the past five years, Boston University and Northeastern University have each reported on average about two sexual assaults each year for every 10,000 students.
Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that trains colleges and universities to comply with the Clery Act, said she’s usually most alarmed by Clery reports with low sexual assault figures.
“We constantly tell parents and students that higher sexual assault numbers aren’t necessarily a bad thing,” she said. “It often means students know where to go to report and that they’re comfortable doing so.”
“I’m typically more concerned when I see a school reporting zeroes across the board,” Kiss added.
Yet, “All too-often it’s the colleges with the higher statistics that get labeled as being dangerous when in fact they’re usually the ones who are doing a better job reporting,” Carter said.
Madeleine Estabrook, associate vice president for student affairs at Northeastern, said the university is “very diligent” in reporting its Clery data.
She said the school’s low sexual assault reporting may be due to a wide range of variables that could impact the data, including the school’s geographic location and configuration, the number of students living on campus and the university’s efforts around sexual assault prevention and response.
“The work that is done to make the campus safe in secure is a very important variable to consider,” Estabrook said.
She said that five years ago, with help from a grant from the Department of Justice, the university revamped its violence support, response and education programming. That effort included building a collaboration among existing services on the campus, uniting programs around sexual assault, alcohol use and other campus safety issues.
Estabrook said the university's programming around campus safety is regarded as "cutting edge not only in Boston but also nationally."
BU created a campus crisis center in 2012 to focus on rape and sexual assault prevention and support for victims of such acts as well as other forms of physical abuse, such as hazing.
Colin Riley, a spokesman for BU, said the university is thorough and accurate in its reporting of Clery data.
And, "We also recognize it’s very important that students feel comfortable reporting," he said.
Riley said the university works to ensure students are aware of the issue.
"This is a topic that is frequently discussed on campus," he said.
Congress, experts call on federal officials, campuses to improve campus sexual assault data collection efforts
More than three dozen members of Congress have written to the federal office in charge of enforcing the Clery Act, calling on it to do a better job of collecting data on campus sexual assaults.
Advocacy groups and researchers have been calling for better, more transparent data collection for years. The Globe’s review of Clery data -- federally mandated reports on campus crime -- found that the number of assaults reported by most, if not all, campuses – both locally and nationally – over the past decade have been much lower than estimates of numerous studies.
Even with a spike in reported campus sexual assaults over the past five years, the rates schools are reporting come nowhere close to figures in a 2007 Department of Justice-funded study which estimated that about 5.2 percent of college women are sexually assaulted each year.
Experts say such low numbers tend to mean schools either need to do more to make students feel comfortable reporting the crime or schools need to do a more thorough, honest job in their methods for collecting and reporting the data, or a combination of the two. Stronger federal oversight could be a key driver for this, too, experts say.
Campuses urged to monitor prevalence, not just reported cases
One part of the letter signed by 39 members of Congress called on the US Education Department's Office for Civil Rights to require colleges and universities to conduct anonymous surveys of students to more accurately report how prevalent sexual assault is on each campus – not simply how often it is reported.
An estimated 88 percent of victims do not formally report the crime, according to a 2007 study funded by the Department of Justice.
David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who has spent the past three decades researching campus sexual assault, said the fact that few, if any, schools study how prevalent the crime actually is on their campuses “underscores one of the major shortcomings in how higher education has been handling sexual assault.”
Lisak, who recently retired from teaching at UMass Boston, has advised US military officials on how to prevent and respond to sexual assault cases at service academies.
He said that changes made by the Department of Defense in just the past several years has led military academies to implement better methods of collecting meaningful data about sexual assaults than higher education has managed over the past two-and-a-half decades since the Clery Act was signed into law in 1990.
The country’s three military academies not only compile annual statistics on sexual assaults reported to authorities, but also conduct an anonymous survey of cadets and midshipmen every two years to get a more accurate picture of how many sexual assaults actually occur.
For example, during the 2011-12 academic year, 58 sexual assaults were reported at the service academies, according to a report from the Department of Defense to Congress. But an anonymous survey estimated the actual number of sexual assaults at the academies that year was about 526.
“We’ve really been focusing our efforts on trying to increase reporting so victims can get the help they need,” said Department of Defense spokeswoman Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson.
Asked why few, if any, higher education institutions anonymously survey students regularly about sexual assault, Lisak said: “Because then the numbers are out there.”
“There’s still a lot of resistance,” he added. “All universities have mechanisms already in place [to conduct such a survey]. This would not be technically challenging really at any level. We really just need the will.”
The Jan. 29 letter from members of Congress also urges the education department office to: be more transparent about its investigations and enforcement actions around campus sexual assault and harassment; create a central, public database about laws and guidelines schools are expected to follow around the issue of sexual assault; and to require campuses to be more transparent in disclosing what each is doing to prevent and respond to sexual assault, including making available information about crime statistics, enforcement actions, and students’ rights under Title IX.
When asked for a response to the letter, Education Department press secretary Dorie Nolt said in a statement: “We have received the letter and will respond to it. We agree that this is a very important issue, which is why we have prioritized civil rights enforcement and are working to galvanize a national effort to help prevent sexual assaults and to better support survivors of sexual violence. In fact, last week, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to establish the ‘White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.’”
Federal department unsure why some Clery figures seem off
The figures that the Globe reviewed for its story on campus sexual assault came directly from an online database run by the federal Education Department.
Every higher education institution in the US that receives federal financial aid is required by law to submit he data to the department. The department then posts those figures to the website, www.ope.ed.gov/security.
The data dates back to as early as 2001, but some of the crime figures, particularly between 2001 and 2003 seem unbelievably high.
Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for the federal Education Department, also doubted the validity of some of the data between 2001 and 2003 but said she had no idea why the numbers were likely wrong and said she did not know of anyone in the department would could provide an explanation for the apparent inconsistencies.
She said the department simply collects the data from schools and posts the numbers online. She said the department tries to check back with schools if certain numbers seem off, but otherwise the department does not analyze the data it collects.
Glickman also declined to comment on, and said she did not know anyone in the department who could comment on, why the Globe’s review found that the number of sexual assaults has risen in recent years while other crime types have gone down or held relatively steady.
“The law calls on the department to collect campus crime data and ensure that institutions are complying with the law’s provisions,” Glickman wrote in an email. “We do not analyze the data or do research into why certain crime categories are going up or down.”
However, the department is the only agency in charge of enforcing the Clery Act and its data reporting rules.
In the 15 years between 1997 and 2012, the department completed a total of 59 investigations into schools suspected of not being in full compliance with the Clery Act, according to a list of the finished reports on the education department’s website that the spokeswoman referred the Globe to. Of those, 34 investigations were completed in the four years between 2009 and 2012.
She said the department does not disclose investigations that are ongoing.
The department conducts such reviews if: a complaint is filed; “a media event raises certain concerns;” the school’s independent audit “identifies serious non-compliance;” or through a “review selection process,” the website says.
Glickman said the department takes all complaints and reviews seriously but noted that some reviews take several years and said that the department has limited resources to conduct such investigations.
A 2002 study funded by the Department of Justice found that about only 36.5 percent of schools reported “crime statistics in a manner that was fully consistent with the Clery Act.”
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights also investigates allegations of colleges and universities violating Title IX, the federal civil rights law protecting students from general discrimination.
Over the past several years, the number of such complaints related specifically to campus sexual violence has risen, according to data provided by department spokesman Jim Bradshaw.
In the both the 2009 and 2010 fiscal year there were 11 such complaints. There were 18 complaints in 2011 and 17 the following year before the number of complaints spiked to 30 during 2013.
In the department’s current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, there have already been 13 such complaints.
The office said it currently has 39 pending Title IX investigations involving allegations of sexual violence at post-secondary institutions.
Still, experts say more needs to be done to hold schools accountable.
“The Office for Civil Rights is broken,” said Colby Bruno, an attorney at the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, who runs training programs about the education rights of sexual assault victims and helps some students file federal complaints against their schools.
“The law isn’t really lacking. Where we’re lacking is enforcement,” she added.
Getting Clery data from the Education Department website, especially for years prior to 2005, can be confusing and cumbersome.
Even after the data is found, it’s can be difficult to interpret, in part because schools are given leeway in how they interpret certain aspects of the law and thus how they report. For instance, Glickman said schools “have latitude” in how they determine what areas around their campus to include when they report Clery data.
“To me the data is vitally important because there’s a sense of accountability and I think schools need that,” said Bruno. “Reliable data is also important because we want to see if programming and prevention efforts are working.”
Other past, ongoing efforts to improve Clery
The letter from members of Congress was led by Democrat US Representatives Jackie Speier, of California, and Carolyn Maloney, of New York. The letter also said the office should provide campuses with better guidance about how to respond to same-sex violence and gender identity discrimination.
In recent years, some efforts have been made to improve the effectiveness of the Clery Act.
In a “Dear Colleague Letter” issued April 4, 2011, the federal education department outlined a series of guidelines for how colleges should respond to sexual harassment and violence.
Last year, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed an updated version of the Violence Against Women Act, which added a section called the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, a law setting new standards for how campuses report sex offenses. Schools will need to comply with those new regulations for the first time when they submit Clery reports this coming fall.
And, last week, to go along with the release of a White House report on the prevalence and devastating effects of sexual assault on college campuses, Obama created a task force of senior administration officials who, with input from campus officials, students, advocacy groups and law enforcement, will try to find ways to protect students from rape and sexual assault.
Obama said he the group’s first body of work is due in 90 days.
Advocates for sexual-assault victims say that, to go along with changes at the federal level, they have seen a surge in activism around the issue from students, campus organizations, and alumni.
Particularly, “We’re seeing a lot more victims willing to step forward and publicly talk about what happened to them and using that as a pressure for change,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-sexual violence organization.
“Hopefully that will put some pressure on colleges about how they deal with it,” he added.
Surviving in Numbers
The numbers are small and large. They symbolize days, months, and years. They describe conversations had and not had. They represent attackers and attacks, scars and bruises, nightmares and suicide attempts.
But most importantly, the numbers illustrate resilience in the face of sexual assault--legal cases won, fears abated, and messages spread.
They inform the sexual assault awareness campaign "Surviving in Numbers," a Tumblr of posters submitted by victims and an exhibit at Massachusetts colleges and universities.
"The numbers are powerful because they give freedom for someone to express their story in the numbers they choose," said Ali Safran, the creator of "Surviving in Number and a Mount Holyoke senior, in November. "They also make it easier from people who are not survivors to understand because numbers are an easy concept."
Here are two striking ones: One in five women has been sexually assaulted at college, a new White House report found, and only 12 percent of student victims report the assault.
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday an initiative to combat sexual assaults, particularly those on college campuses. Obama assigned a newly formed task force of college administrators 90 days to formulate a list of recommendations on preventing and responding to college sexual assaults, reported The Associated Press.
The White House Council on Women and Girls report, entitled "Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action," found that 22 million American woman and 1.6 million men have been victims of sexual assaults. The criminal justice response is often lacking, the report said, due to police bias and inadequate training.
‘‘No one is more at risk of being raped or sexually assaulted than women at our nation’s colleges and universities,’’ said the report.
According to a Boston.com study of 2013 Clery Act reports, there were 101 reports of forcible sex offenses and one report of a non-forcible sex offense at local colleges and universities.
Forcible sex offenses on Boston-area campuses predominantly occurred in residential buildings.
Reports of sexual assaults on campuses have increased in recent years. In 2010, 68 forcible sex offenses were reported, according to Boston-area colleges' Clery Act reports. At Harvard University, the number of reports nearly doubled between 2011 and 2012.
Harvard University Police Department spokesman Steven Catalano told Boston.com in September that because rapes are under-reported, he hopes the increase in reported cases means more victims are coming forward and not that more crimes are occurring on campus.
Decreasing the number of cases and making reporting them easier is the goal of Obama's task force.
"The president is committed to solving this problem, not just as president of the United States, but as a father of two girls," senior advisor Valerie Jarrett told the AP.
Safran said her own sexual assault came the year before college. "Surviving in Numbers" was inspired by her recollections of that time.
"I thought about the number of people who I had told my story to with no result," said Safran. "Then, I focused more on the number of things I've done since the assault."
Since it launched in October 2012, "Surviving in Numbers" has received more than 250 anonymous poster submissions. Safran has worked with students at Boston University, Tufts University, and Mount Holyoke College, displaying the signs on campus and offering time and supplies for victims to make one of their own.
Safran said she hopes the Obama administration will elicit survivor input in addressing the prevalence of sexual assaults.
"It’s a great step," she said, of the initiative. "And college campuses are a great place to start."
Many Boston-area college and university campuses closed early today and will remain closed Friday because of a significant storm that is expected to drop more than a foot of snow locally.
But it may not feel like a true snow day because most students and professors are still on winter break.
The list of schools that have already shut down most, if not all, operations or plan to do so by 3 p.m. includes: Babson College, Bentley University, Berklee College of Music, Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Emerson College, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Simmons College, Suffolk University, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, UMass Boston, and UMass Lowell, according to the respective websites of the institutions.
Babson, Bentley, Berklee, BC, BU, Brandeis, Emerson, Harvard, Northeastern, Tufts, UMass Boston, and UMass Lowell also announced they will remain closed tomorrow.
Simmons, Suffolk and UMass Amherst have not announced if their campuses will be closed or open Friday.
The decision last week by a US organization of scholars to boycott Israeli academic institutions has ignited debate on college campuses around New England and beyond about academic freedom, the role of politics in scholarly life, and US support for Israel.
The American Studies Association said its boycott was to protest Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and what it described as the involvement of Israeli universities in supporting government policy.
Since the association announced the boycott Dec. 16, prominent academic leaders — including Boston University president Robert A. Brown, Harvard president Drew Faust, Yale president Peter Salovey, and Faust’s predecessor, Lawrence H. Summers — have condemned the move as a violation of academic freedom.
The American Studies program at Brandeis University is withdrawing from the national American Studies Association in protest, and Brandeis President Fred Lawrence on Tuesday issued a statement urging other universities to “follow our lead and disassociate from the ASA.”
Globe subscribers can read the entire story here.
Harvard poll shows trouble for health care, frustration with politics among millennials (via PBS News Hour)
By: Aileen Graef Students have a discussion about the Affordable Care Act with a supporter of the law at an awareness event at Santa Monica City College in Santa Monica, Calif. Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images Young people enrolling in health care…
Everyone has heard of parents who do their grade schooler’s science project or are overly involved in their kids’ social lives. But the infamous helicopter parents, hovering over their younger children, are now transitioning into so-called snowplow parents, trying to smooth a path for their kids even after they’ve started college.
A growing number can’t seem to let go. Blame it on technology or anxiety or habit — some parents remain so involved that they are leaving their college-age kids anxious, depressed, and ill-equipped to deal with matters both small and large, according to experts.
Princeton tops Harvard in national university rankings; Williams, Amherst named top two liberal arts colleges
Harvard is the country’s second-best university behind Princeton, according to U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of higher education institutions.
New England-area schools fared well on the list: Yale University came in at third, MIT tied for seventh, and Dartmouth College tied for 10th.
Brown University tied for 14th, Tufts tied for 28th, Boston College ranked 31st, Brandeis tied for 32nd, Boston University tied for 41st, and Northeastern tied for 49th.
Among the top 50 schools, nine are located in California and seven are located in the Boston-area.
The University of Connecticut tied for the 57th ranking, Worcester Polytechnic Institute tied for 62nd place, Clark University tied for 75th, the University of Vermont ranked tied for the 82nd spot, the University of Massachusetts Amherst tied for 91st, and the University of New Hampshire tied for 97th.
In addition to the national university rankings, U.S. News & World Report also released a second list that ranked the top national liberal arts colleges in the country.
Williams College topped that list followed by Amherst College.
Bowdoin and Middlebury colleges tied for fourth place. Wellesley College tied for seventh. Wesleyan tied for 17th, Smith tied for 20th, Bates and Colby tied for 22nd, Holy Cross tied for 25th, Trinity tied for 36th, Mount Holyoke tied for 38th and Connecticut College tied for 45th.
To see other schools in the rankings and more information about how the lists were compiled, click here.
Meanwhile, QS World University released its annual global rankings, which included three New England schools in the top 10.
MIT ranked first, Harvard second and Yale eighth.
For more information on those rankings, click here.
The first lesson of the year for the hordes of college students headed for Boston and Amherst came from the Office of Consumer Affairs: rent your textbooks or buy them online.
You're liable to save 50 percent.
The state Office of Consumer Affairs released the results of its annual textbook survey Wednesday, in which it shopped for the same textbooks 12 different ways.
Perhaps the strongest message from the survey sounds a little strange to the ears of the print generation: stay out of the bookstore.
A social psychology book that costs $250 at the college bookstore goes for $175 new on Amazon. But renting, buying used or sharing the cost with a classmate - that's where the savings really lie.
“Parents and students may not realize the wealth of options they have when it comes to buying college textbooks,” said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. “Textbooks are a large part of the college investment, and consumers should carefully consider these options and not simply rely on the school bookstore. There is a real opportunity to save some money here.”
– C. Sandler/SHNS
More than 1,000 professors have voiced their support for Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill to let students borrow loans at the same rate that large banks pay to the Federal Reserve, which she says is at about .75 percent.
A petition on the Progressive Change Campaign Committee’s website has garnered signatures from more than 1,000 professors at 568 schools in the US. The letter calls on Congress “to make college accessible to all Americans by passing bold education policies -- beginning with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill.”
“The long-term rising cost of college demands a bold solution. Some of us have seen smart students with a bright future forced to drop out due to the high cost of higher education,” the letter says. “This hurts them and America’s economic future. Education should be available to everyone -- it’s the most important investment we can make in our nation.”
“The federal government is going to charge interest rates nine times higher than the rates they charge the biggest banks, the same banks that destroyed millions of jobs and nearly broke this economy,” Warren said on the floor in May.
“If the Federal Reserve can float trillions of dollars to large financial institutions at low interest rates to grow the economy, surely they can float the Department of Education the money to fund our students, keep us competitive, and help grow our middle class,” Warren said.
Progressive organizations including MoveOn, Democracy for America, and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, have collectively garnered more than 618,000 signatures in support of the bill.
Senate Democrats were unable to restore lower interest rates on student loans today, meaning that undergraduates are still in jeopardy of paying double the amount in student loan rates -- from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.
‘‘Today, we failed. And our nation’s students pay the cost of that failure,’’ Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. said following the vote.
Watch: Warren's floor speech about student loans on Monday:
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Katherine Landergan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For campus news updates, follow her on Twitter @klandergan.
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